Caitlin went to college 15 years ago at UVM, earning both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the humanities. She describes herself as “hyper-focused,” and says she always wanted to continue on for a PhD in history. “But it just never happened.”
Instead, Caitlin built a career in health and wellness; for the past eight years, she’s worked at a local fitness center, teaching group fitness classes and serving as a health coach. Though the changes in her employment forced by COVID came as a shock, they would eventually motivate a positive transformation, and one that was long overdue: “Before the pandemic, I desperately needed a better work-life balance,” Caitlin says. “I wanted to connect my lived experience with my education and my values, but I didn’t know how.”
To start, she picked up a temporary position as a contact tracer with the Vermont Department of Health. And then in the middle of last fall, she found out about the opportunity to take free classes at the Vermont State Colleges, thanks to a generous allocation of federal Coronavirus Relief Funds from the Vermont Legislature designed to help Vermonters whose employment had been impacted by the pandemic.
“I just put my name in for every class I wanted,” Caitlin said. She ended up taking two accelerated classes at CCV—Human Biology and Introduction to Health Information Systems—and a third at Northern Vermont University. “For me it was this moment where I could actually spend academic energy on something relevant to the work I’d been doing.”
Being a CCV student gave her an important boost. Throughout her undergraduate and graduate education, she’d never received career advice or learned to write a résumé. At CCV, Career Services reached out to her. “I realized I could ask for the help I’d never gotten before.” She ended up with a spiffy new résumé for her job search. “The Career Services person was amazing,” she said.
The courses she took last fall also gave her confidence. “I think I always had a big sense of impostor syndrome, because I was in this science-related, sports-heavy field, but I didn’t come from that. I always felt a disconnect between me taking up that space and how I approach wellness,” which is informed by her background in the humanities. Along with her work as a contact tracer, the classes “gave me perspective on how the [healthcare] systems work. It gave me a level of comfort and familiarity, and the opportunity to flex new muscles.”
At the end of last fall, Caitlin landed a new job as a public health specialist with the Department of Health’s Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She’ll be supporting various organizations in their work to prevent and manage cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The job provides a welcome challenge: the work is writing- and research-focused, community-oriented, and will allow her to connect with and empower people in a deeper and more meaningful way. It’s also full-time, with benefits and paid holidays. “Work with the State is stability and opportunity on a whole new level,” she said.
“I am so so grateful for the opportunity,” Caitlin said of the free classes she took last fall. “It was so overwhelmingly confidence-boosting and challenging in a really positive way…it certainly allowed me to take this massive leap career-wise, and I truly could not have done it without CCV and these courses.”